Return Of The Junkyard Dog
Patrick Beverley's inspired play stirring the echoes of Rockets' lore
HOUSTON - Rockets fans have seen this story before.
Big city guard with an unpolished game ends up as an afterthought on draft night and bounces around Europe for a few years before finally securing a spot on an NBA roster. Over time, the struggle, hardship and perseverance inherent within that journey sets off a chain reaction, causing the tectonic plates of the player's psyche to collide in such a way that leads to the formation of a supersized, metaphorical mountain perched permanently and precariously on his shoulder forever more.
As a result, there is an indomitable, indefatigable and unflappable fearlessness to his game. The moment is never too big. The lights never too bright. Fear never enters into the equation. What on a basketball court could possibly provoke terror when you’ve seen what he’s seen? And what could possibly be more frightening than coming face to face with the very real possibility that the dream you spent your whole life fighting for may never actually become a reality?
Mario Elie lived that tale. It took him five full years to make his way from the 160th player chosen in the 1985 Draft to a spot on an NBA roster. It took him three more years to find a home in Houston. There was an edge to his game, an in-your-face aggression that made him easy for fans to love and miserable to play against. He accepted any assignment, defended as if his life depended on it and displayed an undeniable knack for knocking down the biggest of 3s while helping the Rockets win back-to-back championships in the mid-90s.
Elie’s unrelenting tenacity earned him the nickname, “Junkyard Dog.” The moniker perfectly captured both his playing style and on-court personality. Like so many players, the New York City native just needed the right fit at the right time. Houston provided both and now he’s earned a permanent place in Rockets’ lore.
Two decades later, Patrick Beverley appears to be blazing a remarkably similar path. A second-round pick in 2009, the Chicago born-and-bred point guard played in Europe for four years before receiving an opportunity to play in his first NBA game. He’s lived the struggle and fought tooth and nail to reach this point. And now, with every steal, each outrageous offensive rebound and, yes, every clutch corner 3 he’s doing everything he can to ensure his hard-earned spot is never snatched away from his grasp.
His latest heroics against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat – the team that traded for his draft rights but ultimately waived him before the end of training camp in 2010 – stand out because of the gravity of the game, but really all his performance truly did was reconfirm the immense importance of his standing on this particular Rockets team. This is, quite frankly, a different club when he is on the court; his energy, defense and attitude consistently raise the level of the Rockets’ play – an observation backed up by the fact that he boasts the second-best plus/minus of any player on the team.
When Houston needs an injection of life, he provides it. When a momentum-altering extra possession is a necessity, he goes and gets it. When a defensive stop is required, he delivers – even when that task asks the seemingly impossible and momentarily matched him up against LeBron James.
“I just go out there and play basketball,” he says. “I play basketball the way I’d play if I was at the park. There’s no motives with me. I’m all for the team, and that’s how I play. I can’t turn my aggression off and I can’t turn it on; it’s just instilled in me and that’s how I play.
“My focus is on winning. It’s not up to me to decide who’s a better point guard or anything. It’s up to me to keep Dwight Howard’s and James Harden’s head straight, and keep (Parsons) and Jeremy Lin uplifted – that’s my job on this team.”
Beverley’s last comment shines a light on the defining characteristic of his personality and perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his role with the Rockets. The 25-year-old’s actions back up his words; this is a player who steps on the team bus every day joyfully shouting out his favorite two mantras: ‘Let’s get better,’ and ‘If you’re mind’s not on winning, get off of the bus.’ Constant improvement and a burning desire to win are what drive him; after all, it’s what got him to where he is today. But the extraordinary aspect of all of this lies in the fact that this player who began his pro career as a basketball vagabond plying his trade for three different clubs in Europe has, in the span of little more than a year, ascended to a leadership role on one of the best teams in the NBA. When his words ring out, All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard take heed and take them to heart.
“Before I came here, I had my own team overseas so being a leader of a team is nothing new to me,” Beverley says. “I was put in a good situation. My abilities work perfect in this system that we have. If that’s my job to lead and if that’s my job to go out there and play defense, take charges, dive into the stands, then that’s what I’m going to do if that’s what it takes to win basketball games.”
That sentiment sums him up. Do whatever it takes. Deliver non-stop energy, toughness and defense. Fight for every inch. Make opponents miserable. Such is the basketball essence of Patrick Beverley. Little wonder, then, that after Tuesday night's game Houston head coach Kevin McHale labeled his starting point guard “a junkyard dog.”
That’s high praise around these parts. A badge of honor, really, especially among Rockets fans who have seen this story before and remember its magic. Two decades later, Beverley is giving them reason to believe that history could be in the process of repeating itself in more ways than one, and that fortune may find favor with Houston once more, delivering hope - and who knows, maybe even a kiss - along the road toward yet another fairy tale ending.